Zarticon 2023: What We Learned from Our First User Conference

After months of preparation and anticipation, the time had finally come to welcome partners to our first user conference. For the Zarticans on site at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, it felt as though the energy of the whole property shifted as soon as the first attendee stepped up to the registration table. Zarticon had arrived.

And although we set up the event with a focus on learning and education for the 150+ destination partners in attendance, we know that learning goes both ways. After a fabulous week of sun and palm trees, sessions and connections, great food and great conversations, here’s what we walked away with.

1. Data heroes are destined to become the most powerful leaders in their destinations, and training is key.

While most of the sessions at Zarticon were presentation-style with speakers on stage and the occasional opportunity to engage in Q&A, we hosted two workshop sessions where attendees were invited to dig into their own destination data to answer key questions and practice communicating findings.

The feedback we heard from these sessions… “We want more!” Partners are hungry not just for ideas and frameworks but also for opportunities to put their hands on their computer keyboards and work with data insights that can lead to real outcomes.

Zarticon Day 2 AM-14

2. Geolocation data is a raw material… like a potato.

Jayson Ayers joined us to talk about the geolocation data — or as he prefers to call it, “human movement data” — that Near sources from 200,000 mobile apps and licenses to Zartico. 

“Here’s one way to think about location data,” he said. “It’s kind of like ingredients — like potatoes. Every restaurant in town could buy their potatoes from the same place, but it’s what they do with those potatoes — as they clean them and prepare them and put them into a dish — that makes the potatoes from one restaurant special compared to another restaurant. And Zartico is cooking up some good stuff.”

Zarticon Day 2 AM-12

3. Zartico’s core data sources are constantly innovating to improve reliability, usability and security.

Along with Jayson, representatives from Zartico’s two other core data sources — Stephanie Bouic from PredictHQ and George Wade from Affinity Solutions — were there to educate users on how to confidently use the data in the ZDOS™, and to hear from users about their needs.

What stood out from each of these deep-dive conversations is all the ways these data companies are working to improve their products, which will in turn improve the ZDOS™ and the insights available to partners. 

4. Numbers can’t speak for themselves, and that’s why we need data storytellers.

Presenting statistics without stories can make your audience more resistant to new information and cause you to miss out on opportunities for change, according to our keynote speaker and Effective Data Storytelling author Brent Dykes. “We hear statistics, but we feel stories,” he said.

Brent explained how data must be paired with narrative and visuals to create a meaningful data story that bridges the gap between logical thinking and emotional feeling, and he shared an abundance of tips for optimizing charts and presentations.

P.S.: We highly recommend following Brent on LinkedIn — his posts are data storytelling gold!

Brent Dykes

5. AI is here for good — and with good potential for destinations.

It’s been impossible to miss in your LinkedIn feeds for weeks, but serial entrepreneur and AI expert Dave Carruthers confirmed what we’ve all suspected — it’s time to learn how to use generative AI tools like ChatGPT.

Dave got us started by showing us the potential for building itineraries, writing blog post drafts, editing video content, and more. He also provided a much needed push by adding, “People don’t always want to adopt new technology because they’re too busy doing what they’ve always done.”

Zarticon Day 2 PM-57

6. Traditional research and new data streams must work together to experiment and find opportunities to evolve.

Although Longwoods International Founder Amir Eylon was unable to attend, Zartico’s CMO Ted Sullivan still addressed the elephant in the room by discussing all the ways that traditional surveys and geolocation data have historically failed to see eye to eye.

Both methodologies have their strengths, and the industry will need to create new metrics and KPIs to measure their combined impact.

7. We work with data storytelling stars!

Five amazing destination partners took the Zarticon stage on Thursday afternoon to share how they’ve used data insights to generate outcomes for their communities — and, wow, did they deliver!

Live music, marathons, motorsports, track meets, and creative campaigns all vied for the Best Data Storyteller award, which ultimately went to Timothy Bush from Visit Lake Charles.

Timothy Bush

8. “Zartico does for travel organizations what Peloton does for fitness.”

Josh Derouin from advertising agency BVK provided our new favorite analogy, swiftly dethroning the potato metaphor after less than five hours. Here’s what he said:

“Both are extremely easy to use. Both take away all of your excuses for not achieving your goals, if you let them. They are incredibly intuitive. They both have a good community supporting you, and they both have a following that is willing to travel across the country to meet with one another.”

He went on to explain that although everyone in attendance may think of themselves as ZDOS™ users, they are in fact the motivational expert, the “enabler of analytical thinking within your organization.” And just like a Peloton bike, the ZDOS™ only helps you meet your goals if you have a plan to use it.

Tim Chambers from Visit Tulsa summed it up nicely, “If I want to be data strong, I’ve got to use the tools.”

Zarticon Day 2 AM-9

9. People take notice of how Zartico’s culture is different.

We heard from many people who loved getting a chance to meet the Zartico team — and trust us, the feeling is mutual! There’s something about the Zartico culture that resonates with our partners, whether it’s our shared belief in tourism as a force for good or the ideals that have become the foundation of our company and the movement we’re building within the industry.

On Friday’s closing session, CEO Sarah Lehman invited all of the attendees into one of Zartico’s weekly rhythms, sharing “roses and thorns” about what went well or possibly not-so-well that week. Dozens of Zarticans joined from home via Zoom as folks in Tampa and on the screen shared their gratitudes and learnings together.

Zarticon Day 3-64

10. Destination professionals are eager to work together for the common good of travel and tourism.

This will not be news for anyone who has worked with destinations, but it’s a great reminder for us all. Even though destinations compete for visitors and for a share of their travel spending, there’s a deeper desire to see our collective success that seems to drive people in this industry.

This cooperative spirit was on full display at Zarticon as people peered over shoulders to learn ZDOS™ tricks and shared contact information to serve as future sounding boards for one another.

Zarticon Day 2 AM-17

BONUS: Socializing at sunset reminds us why we do what we do.

Two spectacular, Instagram-worthy Tampa sunsets closed out each evening of Zarticon programming. Watching people linger around tables and fire pits, deep in conversation with others who deeply love a place or community and work for its betterment  — that is all the inspiration we need.

Zarticon Day 2 PM-76

Check out all of the photos from the event, and stay tuned for more information about Zarticon 2024!